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City View: The Alexander Garden

After agreeing to place statues in the garden, the City Duma then had to determine who deserved one.

Published: September 3, 2014 (Issue # 1827)



  • The statue of Nikolai Przhevalsky, a naturalist and explorer who traveled through the vast steppes of Central and East Asia cataloguing plants and animals.
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A defining feature of St. Petersburg is the various parks and gardens that dot the map from north to south and east to west, providing places of tranquility and quiet in the urban sprawl of Russias second-largest city.

Theres Park Pobedy in the south, which was once home to a brick factory and, more morbidly, a crematorium for the dead during the Leningrad blockade. Theres the Summer Garden along the banks of the Neva, whose fence is so beautiful that, legend has it, a man who sailed all the way from Britain to see the city turned back at the sight of it, as he believed nothing else could match its beauty. North of the center are Krestovsky and Yelagin islands, providing local families an ideal spot to picnic.

One urban oasis that stands out is the Alexander Garden, which abuts the Admiralty building and stretches from Palace Square to Senate Square. Before its reincarnation as one of the citys most popular parks, the area was covered by the fortifications of the Admiralty. A wide avenue was built in front of the building and it became a popular place for the citys aristocracy and nobility to meet and be seen, its fame immortalized in verse in Pushkins Eugene Onegin. It wasnt until 1872 that a decision was made to transform the layout from a pedestrian thoroughfare to a more scenic, natural setting.

Responsibility for the garden fell upon the shoulders of Eduard Regel, a German horticulturalist and botanist who had been in charge of St. Petersburgs botanical garden since 1855. Born in 1812, he graduated from the University of Bonn and was the head of Zurichs botanical garden after completing his studies in Gottingen, Germany. It was thanks to his efforts that St. Petersburgs botanical garden became one of Europes most beautiful.

The Alexander Garden first opened in 1874, named after the then emperor Alexander II, and the park was an immediate hit with locals. In 1880, the St. Petersburg City Duma decided to commemorate the countrys greatest cultural figures with statues of them placed throughout the garden.

While the city government was well in favor of the proposal, deciding who was important enough to earn a statue in the Alexander Garden was another story. Rejected candidates included Saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Cyrillic alphabet, the poets Gavrila Derzhavin and Nikolai Karamzin, and famed scholar Mikhail Lomonosov.

Of those deemed worthy of being represented in the Alexander Garden was Nikolai Przhevalsky, a naturalist and explorer who traveled through the vast steppes of Central and East Asia cataloguing plants and animals. Unfortunately, his statue is best known today in the park not only because of the stone camel resting at its base but because of Przhevalskys startling resemblance to Iosef Stalin.

The honored (and less Stalin-resembling) artists whose statues can still be seen to this day include Nikolay Gogol, the composer Mikhail Glinka and the poets Mikhail Lermontov and Vasily Zhukovsky.

After the Bolsheviks seized power, the garden was renamed to the Maxim Gorky Workers Garden, a name it would keep until 1989.

During World War II, as the city savagely struggled for survival, none of the trees in the garden were cut down despite the terrible need for firewood in a city dying from cold, hunger and disease by the thousands. However, German shelling and air raids heavily damaged the park, and when the siege was finally lifted at the beginning of 1944, the garden was restored to its former glory.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Oct. 30


Dental-Expo St. Petersburg 2014 concludes today at Lenexpo. Welcoming specialists from throughout the federation, the forum is an opportunity for dentists to share tricks of the trade and peruse the most recent innovations in technology and equipment, with over 100 companies hocking their wares at the event.



Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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